i am legendWarner Bros.

“What the hell are you doing out here, Fred? Fred, if you’re real, you better tell me right now!”

Three years after a man-made plague wipes out 99% of the world’s population, Dr. Robert Neville finds himself the lone survivor, immune to the plague that has turned most of the infected into night-roaming mindless ghouls that feed on living flesh. By day he roams the deserted streets of New York City, now overtaken by foliage and wildlife, and continually seeks a cure in his basement lab for the disease that he helped create. As he’s slowly loosing his grasp on his sanity due to the isolation and the memory of his wife and daughter haunting his dreams, there suddenly appears a faint light at the end of this very dark tunnel. Only thing is, the night prowlers are closing in, and it may be too late…

Third go-round for the cinematic take on the classic Richard Matheson novel, and while this one was definitely not as cheesy-bad as the Omega Man version, this movie really makes it only two-thirds of the way of doing the source material justice. Mind you, I realize that these Hollywood takes on novels like this usually don’t come close to doing any kind of “justice”, but I made the grave mistake of actually getting my hopes up for this one. So far, the only one of the three that comes close to staying true to the source was The Last Man On Earth, Vincent Price being wrong for the lead or not.

In other words: Fans of the novel, go see this movie, but don’t bring your love of the book with. You’ll enjoy it more. Well, most of it, anyway.

I Am Legend is, for all intents and purposes, a good movie. It has some great visuals, a nice creepy tone, and believe it or not, Will Smith plays the protagonist Dr. Neville restrained with intensity. Matter of fact, due to his performance in this movie, I might have to go out and rent The Pursuit Of Happyness. The man is really growing as an actor. There. I said it.

Oh, I should take time to mention: SPOILER ALERT! Just in case you haven’t seen the movie yet…

Okay, so, what really worked for the movie was the first two-thirds, as I mentioned before, where it was more character-driven — Neville and his dog, surviving alone, with a tremendous burden to try and fix a problem he started in the face of hopelessness and great loss. Three years after the plague hit, he’s still working to find a cure. Interspersed are flashbacks to when the problem started, with him trying to get his wife and daughter to safety, only to have it end in tragedy. Meantime, he’s trying to stay alive and maintain his tenacious grasp on sanity when the logical action would have been to give up hope. Smith really conveys that inner struggle between utter hopelessness and fighting to keep that hope alive.

Where the movie started to loose me was when the ghouls (for lack of a better word) appeared for the first time on screen. Sure, the first glimpse of them in the darkness was good and creepy. But, when you realized that they were all rendered in CGI – very obvious CGI – my ability to suspend reality weakened a bit. Think upon how the Mummy was rendered in the recent The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (the ones with Brendan Frazer), and you get the idea. I understand that this was decided on because of issues with live actors getting their feet and various other body parts lacerated and damaged with all the barefoot running around and such. Still, took me out of it.

The second point of contention is the ending. Purists of the novel should take note: The ending is vastly different than the source material. See, in the book, Neville was a legend because he was the last man on earth, killing off the dominate creatures, ironically becoming the boogieman to the vampire ghoul people. Here in the movie…let’s just say it’s more of an upbeat, Hollywood-preachy type reason why Neville becomes a legend. You could probably guess where this is going. It’s an instance where the ending to Last Man On Earth was better than this one. I haven’t seen Omega Man yet, if ever, so I have no point of reference for that ending. I’m pretty sure it sucked, though. Just a hunch.

Bottom Line: I Am Legend starts off with a visceral bang, setting up the tension with some great acting by Will Smith, interspersed with effective settings and flashbacks that tug on the emotional strings as well as fill you with a sense of dread; then it starts to slip up with the introduction of the ghouls, and then by the end of the movie you can’t help but feel a little bit cheated. It’s a good movie…it just decided to take the easy way out of things. I’m beginning to see why the author of the book has always had a pessimistic view on Hollywood’s treatment of perhaps one of the definitive horror novels of the 20th Century. Still the better version of the three.